Totara Estate's unique view of past

At Totara Estate (from leaf) visitor host Keren Mackay, visitor Cemil Clarke and historic estate...
At Totara Estate (from leaf) visitor host Keren Mackay, visitor Cemil Clarke and historic estate property manager Paula East. PHOTO: Rebecca Anderson

Totara Estate, south of Oamaru, puts some flesh of history to the backbone of New Zealand's economy, agriculture and exporting.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) property sits on the eastern side of SH1 at Totara, a short drive north of Maheno and about 10 minutes by car south of Oamaru in the Waitaki district of North Otago.

The sweeping drive to the historic farm and meatworks ushers visitors into an era of New Zealand history when steam ploughing, billy tea and stone-house slaughtering were the latest trends.

Totara Estate visitor host Keren Mackay says the technology put to use on the property during its heyday was new. Settlers and workers at the farm were experimenting with refrigeration such as that being developed in rural Australia and Argentina 140 years ago.

The value of Totara Estate to New Zealand tourism was realised when the NZHPT bought the buildings in 1977. Nearly 34 years later its fame as the site from which the country's first shipment of frozen meat came is well-established.
A stop at Totara Estate gives people a unique glimpse of the past, Keren says, adding that travellers are rewarded with a chance to experience the entrepreneurship and the vision that helped create the New Zealand economy.

"Refrigeration technology was only five years old in the whole world, and they risked a lot to take it on board. And this is where it first happened," she explains.

Totara Estate property manager Paula East is equally enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the site.

"Totara Estate has a whole relationship to New Zealand's meat industry. The New Zealand economy grew once it was figured out that they could export meat and everything. That brought more money into the fledgling country.

"The property has been open since 1982. It was purchased by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1977 and then restored ready for the 100-year anniversary of that frozen meat shipment in February 1982, and has been running as an attraction since."

Many visitors to the estate come from farming backgrounds or are older people with an interest in history and some time to spare.

"It is not quite living history, but you come and see how they lived in the old days, particularly with farming," Keren says.

Paula draws attention to the details of cropping history on display.

"All the buildings here feature artefacts. We have got things that the cook would have used to cook meals on the estate. We have a lot of old machinery that pre-dates the electric machinery: ploughs and other things that would have been drawn by the horses. It was a grain-growing farm." Cattle breeds on the estate included Angus, Ayrshire and Highland.

The original Totara Estate sheep raised for slaughter was a Lincoln-Border Leicester cross.Coffee and refreshments are soon to be available from the gift shop, which stocks a range of timeless retrospective items.

The estate's opening hours from November 1 to April 30 are every day from 10am until 5pm.

In May, September and October, opening hours change to 10am until 4pm every day. In June, July and August, Totara Estate is closed, but group tours are still welcome during this

For further information contact Totara Estate, phone (03) 434-7169.

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